Snow stewards

John Gillis skis on the James C. Frenette Sr. Recreational Trails in Tupper Lake. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — Back in the 1960s, Jim Frenette Sr. followed some Oval Wood Dish company logging trails around the Tupper Lake Golf Course and groomed them into cross-country ski trails. They now bear his name — the James C. Frenette Sr. Recreational Trails.

He continued to groom these trails well into his 80s but eventually needed some help. He recruited his nephew John Gillis and a few others. Now Gillis — along with Eric Lanthier, Jules Callaghan, John Quinn and Scott Chartier — help groom the trails with their newest volunteer, Owen Littlefield.

Gillis explained that he is “happy to help” but “would have been embarrassed to say no” to his uncle. Frenette set a great example. He had also coached many of the guys when they were younger, so they all had a special connection with him. Gillis said all the volunteers are “there because of Jim.”

Gillis described the crew as “awesome, a great crew” and explained that they “get it done.”

“We just show up and do it,” he said. “It’s been fun.”

From left, Jules Callaghan, James Frenette Sr., John Gillis and John Quinn are given special vests by the Tupper Lake town board in April 2019 for their work grooming the town cross-country ski trails. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Now the trails are a multi-use recreation area owned by the town of Tupper Lake, which also owns the golf course. Skiers, snowshoers, fat-tire bikers and dogs all share them. Children learn to ski and race on them after school, led by Ken Kalil.

And then there’s the Brew-Ski, an annual event at which skiers and snowshoers sample the wares of craft breweries from around the region. It drew 1,400 people to the trails this year — twice as many as organizers had expected. The surprise crowd left breweries running out of beer as early as 1:30 p.m., an hour-and-a-half into the event.

Thousands of feet and dog paws tramped through the snow, and afterward, the trails needed a good grooming. Gillis was back out that Sunday morning, getting them back in shape.


(Staff Writer Aaron Cerbone contributed to this report.)


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